In the late 1890s and early 1900s, improvements in printing technology caused a worldwide jump in the popularity of postcards. Combined with cheap postage, and frequent mail delivery (often twice a day in bigger cities), sending a postcard was a fashionable way of sending a quick note across town. Street views were a particularly favorite topic, and as a result, archives all over Europe and America nowadays are replete with images that look increasingly mundane to modern eyes, but that provide valuable insight in the development of urban areas.

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In 1900(*), an unknown photographer spent an afternoon in my hometown of Zwolle, the Netherlands, taking pictures on big (13x18cm) glass negatives, for later use as postcards. Apparently, his equipment and set-up were unusual enough, that a crowd gathered to watch the proceedings. The Provincial Archive of Overijssel has at least two of his originals in its possession, and this particular image drew my attention. It depicts a built-up area outside of the old gated city, but still within the outer defense walls, called the Diezerpoortendam (now Diezerpoortenplas.) The Diezerpoort gate was one of the three major access points to the city, along with the Kamperpoort and the Sassenpoort.

What makes this type of image so fascinating to me is not just the architectural changes, but the many regular people staring at the camera, briefly interrupted in the goings-on of their daily lives. Spending several days separating increasingly tiny elements and colorizing them, it was fun wondering about what these folks were doing that day, and what their stories might have been.

(*) The Overijssel Archive dates the image to 1890, but the telephone pole in the image was erected in 1900, and the Jurgen’s Solo Margarine advertisements were pretty widespread until 1907. So my estimate is roughly 1905. And from the looks of it, sometime in the spring.
UPDATE: The provincial archives of Collectie Overijssel have a postcard of a similar image in this series, postmarked 1902. So I’m revising my estimate of the year to 1900. Maybe 1901.

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